Trump softens tone in speech to Congress
President Donald Trump told Congress he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House.
Mr Trump, in a prime-time address on Tuesday night to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far.
The president's speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1trn (€940bn) public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.
He built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform.
He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said US immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants.
Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Mr Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class.
"I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation's security, and to restore respect for our laws," he said.
Mr Trump's first month in office was dominated by a fight over his temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations, repeated attacks on the news media and harsh personal criticism of judges who blocked his immigration order.
In his speech, he appeared to look for a reset, trying to move past a chaotic period that sowed doubts about his ability to govern effectively.
"The time for trivial fights is behind us," he said.
Financial markets showed a muted reaction as Mr Trump gave few specifics or new details.
Early signs showed his speech drew a positive response. A CNN/ORC poll found 57pc of viewers thought Mr Trump's speech was very positive and 69pc felt more optimistic about the future of the country.
Still, there was plenty of evidence of ongoing partisan divisions. In the chamber of the House of Representatives where Mr Trump spoke, Democrats sometimes sat in silence and turned their thumbs down at his remarks. Many women lawmakers wore white in a subtle show of protest.
Democratic Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware called Mr Trump's speech one of "the most coherent public addresses he's given in a month". But he viewed Mr Trump's forthcoming budget proposals as "gravely concerning", citing the president's plan for paying for a defence build-up by cutting foreign aid and other programmes.
Much of Mr Trump's speech focused on solving problems at home in line with his "America first" rhetoric. Apart from criticising Mr Obama for increasing the national debt, Mr Trump did not mention the federal budget deficit, which will severely limit any new spending programmes.
On immigration, he again pledged to build a wall on the US-Mexico border, but he made no mention this time of Mexico paying for it. He also said he would "shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe", referring to a new executive order he is to sign to replace one embroiled in the courts.
In the most emotional moment of the night, Mr Trump singled out Carryn Owens, widow of US Navy Seal William 'Ryan' Owens, who was killed in a raid on al-Qa'ida in Yemen. Ms Owens, tears streaming down her face, clasped her hands and looked upward from her spot in the balcony as lawmakers and the president applauded her in the longest ovation of Mr Trump's hour-long speech.
Mr Trump said the mission her husband participated in obtained vital intelligence that could be used against Islamist militants, taking issue with news reports quoting US officials who said little was gained from the raid.